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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Two Mahogany End Tables (ca.1930)

Along with the bed I am working on, I was asked to restore two Mahogany end tables from the 1930's. If I had to put them in a category, I would say that they have a strong Rococo influence in the carving design and the over all feel of the pieces. The Mahogany used to make these tables is quite nice and luckily, all of the damage is reversible. Most of this was in the finish so the customer and I decided to remove the lacquer finish on the tables and to give them a French Polish finish.

Below are three photos of the tables as they came to me. The tops were severely marred with rings and the general deterioration of the finish. Besides this, the tables' joinery was loose and there were significant sections of applied banding which was loose or missing. The first photo below shows the two tables followed by two close-up shots of the tops and the damage.

The first thing to do was to remove the finish which can be seen in the photos below. The table on the left (or right in the second photo) has some of the applied banding that had fallen off taped to the top.

Using the original pieces as a template, I created four 24" sections of banding from Honduran Mahogany to replace the missing sections. Each section was a half round shape with a radius of 1/16" of an inch. The pieces are laid out next to the originals in the photo below.
I decided to glue the loose joinery and the applied banding in one operation. I also found that the gallery sections had loosened at the corners so I also glued those. The photo below shows the tables while the glue was drying.
Most of the rings on the tops came out with the removal of the finish. However, there were a couple of rings that had stained the wood. Luckily, the stains were superficial and came out with a little sanding with 320 grit sand paper. The veneer on the tops is paper thin and it would have been very easy to cut through. In fact, there was a section where the manufacturer had done this already! The photo below shows the tables after they were sanded.
The natural color varied across the different sections of the table. the Lacquer had yellowed the tables and it turned out that the table legs were quite dark. I stained the tables to match this color as seen in the photo below.
These last two photos show the tables during the finishing process. I will post completed photos when the job is finished.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

French Empire Style Elm Burl Bed (ca. 1910) Part 1: The Repairs

One of the pieces I am currently working on is a bed built around 1910 in the French Empire style. While this is a reproduction, it is a nice one and displays the general themes associated with the French Empire movement and utilizes book matched Elm burl veneer inlaid with Satinwood cross banding. In addition, the foot board displays a marquetry bouquet of flowers. While not strictly Empire, this adds a nice balance to the Ormolu mounts. Before I detail the repairs made to this bed, I thought it might be nice to write a little on the French Empire movement in furniture.

The Empire Period in French furniture dates roughly from 1804 until 1815 and the earlier date coincides with the ascension of Napoleon Bonaparte to the throne as emperor of France. With his new role, Bonaparte wanted new decoration for his court apartments and enlisted architects Charles Percier and Pierre Fontaine to take on the project. The result was, among other things, the creation of the Empire movement. The furniture broke from the tradition of Louis XVI furniture by employing very straight lines and broad planes of surface veneered with fine hardwood, usually Mahogany. The decoration came from mounts made of Ormolu, which is bronze casting that has been gilt. In addition, the decoration that was used took it's influence directly from the architecture of classical times. This include the use of columns, lion's paws, and after Bonaparte's trip to Egypt, pharaohs and sphinx. This furniture form fell in with the larger Neoclassical period and was employed in Europe and America during the first half of the 19th century.

While the bed in question is not of this original period, it does appear to be made in Europe sometime around 1910. The secondary wood for the piece is Beech and Oak. There were many repairs that were necessary and the finish had yellowed so the customer and I decided to refinish the bed.

Below are a few photos of the bed as it came to me for the most part. After it entered my shop the joinery on the headboard gave out and the head board fell apart.
Several of the feet were broken off of the foot board and in one instance took a section of the foot board with it. This was an old break that had been repaired with nails. Below is a photo of the foot board and the feet broken off below that is a detail shot of the damage described above.

After the finish was removed, the first thing I did was to glue the loose joinery on the headboard. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of this but you can see in photos below that it was repaired!

The next step was to repair the feet on the foot board. The two outer feet had not only become loose, but the joinery had given way as well. This is in due, in part, to the fact that this is where the side rails join with the foot board. There is a lot of torquing and pulling on this section of the foot board. In fact, the left hand side of the foot board had been previously patched with new wood. the patch had given out as well as you can see in the photo below:
Clamping at an angle like this can be tricky, so I cut a block to the profile of the bed and used sandpaper for traction between the block and the bed. This prevented the clamp from slipping while the patch was glued in place.
Here is the same repair from a different angle and with the turned foot in place.
The other side was missing a portion of the leg, so I patched this and later inserted the hardware for the bed bolt as seen in the second photo below.

On the head board, I noticed that a cover for one of the bed bolts had been replaced. The original covers on all four legs were veneered with Elm Burl. This was a cover made from Black Walnut. In keeping with original design I decided to veneer this cover with elm burl. The next three photos show this. The first is the Walnut cover, the second shows the veneer being glued on, and the third photo shows the cover with the elm burl veneer trimmed and ready to be sanded.

One leg on the foot board had a similar problem, except that here was no cover at all, so I made one with Elm burl veneer covering over a Tulip Poplar cover. The first photo below shows the veneer being adhered to the the Poplar. The second shows the veneered cover before the excess wood was trimmed. The third shows the cover ready to be glued to the leg.

This next photo shows the area to be covered by the Poplar. This is followed by a photo of the cover being glued in place and finally of the cover in place ready for sanding.

The stray photo below shows the headboard re-assembled and some loose veneer being glued in place.
The construction of the bed rails was a little different than usual. Rather than having a continuous ledger board attached to the inside of the rails for the slats to rest on, The rails had six blocks which the slats were dovetailed into. the reason for this is twofold. The first is that the rails have bed bolts that are integral to the rails. These attach the rails to the head and foot board. A continuous ledger would cover over the bolts. The second reason for this construction is that the dovetailed slats help to keep the bed rails from warping and keep the slats from moving around.

Four of the original slat holders were intact, although they were severely damaged. They had also been flipped and two new pieces were added to support slats without dovetails. I decided to start from scratch and make eight new slat holders to accommodate four slats. I made them the same as the originals and made four new dovetailed slats to go with them.

Here is a photo of the original slat holders:
Here are the eight new slat holders ready to be attached to the side rails
This photo shows the slats in place. The following photo is a detail shot showing how the dovetailed slat fits into the slat holder. As I move forward in the finishing process I will write a second post concerning this bed.

Mid- Victorian American Mahogany Mirror (ca. 1850)

Recently I restored a Mahogany mirror frame dating to the mid 19th century. The eliptical shaped mirror is set in a carved stand which would be set on top of a chest of drawers. It is possible that this mirror could date a little earlier since Mahogany had fallen out of use by the Victorian cabinetmakers in favor of Walnut at this time. In addition, the stores of Cuban and Honduran Mahogany were heavily depleted through constant harvesting in previous decades. The reason I dated this piece when I did was that the carving was very reminiscent of Mid-Victorian furniture.

At first, I thought this piece might be English, however closer inspection uncovered that this piece is definitely American. American Cherry was used as a secondary wood to make the basic structure of the mirror frame and stand. 1/2 inch pieces of Mahogany were then laid over the Cherry frame and carved down. In addition, the backing for the mirror frame was made from Tulip Poplar.

The mirror had some structural problems as well as some broken and missing carving. The other main concern with this piece was that it had been refinished in the past with a Lacquer finish. The problem with Lacquer is that over time it loses its transparency and also takes on a yellow haze, giving the Mahogany frame the appearance of Walnut! Lacquer is also a very static finish and lacks the elasticity of a French Polish, so as the wood moves beneath the finish, tiny fissures appear in the finish and can cause problems when cleaning products are used, and generally looks weathered. With all of this in mind the customer and I decided to remove the finish from the mirror and let the beauty of the Mahogany shine through a nice French Polish.

I didn't get a good "before" photo of the piece, but below are some photos of the mirror and frame and the stand as they came to me disassembled.

Here is a close-up photo of the Lacquer finish. If you look closely you can see a darker area where the finish had come off. This is the natural color of the Mahogany. the yellowish hue is a result of the Lacquer breaking down.
After the finish was removed, I set about repairing the frame. Here is a photo of the joinery of the frame being glued in place.
This photo is a close-up of the photo above. Sometimes you have to be creative with your clamping. In this case I used two wooden clamps as something for the other clamps to grab a hold of. The blue clamps in the photo then drew the joint together.
The piece in the photos below is a decorative carving which is attached to the mirror frame at the top. It is actually made up of several different pieces of wood which were glued together. I guess the reason for making it out of multiple pieces was to make the carving easier. At any rate, it had broken into many pieces and had also lost portions of the carving.
The next two photos show the carving with the finish removed and being repaired.

As stated before, the carving was missing two sections, one on each end. Below are some photos of the carving with the missing section, the patches put in place, and the patches carved down. The new carvings were later stained to match the color of the mirror.

This photo shows a simple repair to the mirror backing.
The next two shots are of the mirror frame, stand, and carving during the finishing process. All of the pieces were selectively stained to match the darkest portion of the mirror frame.

These last two photos show the mirror completed and re-assembled. It was nice that this frame also contained the original glass, and that it was in such nice shape. Overall this is a nice example of Mid-Victorian Furniture.